Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Enrichment Part II: 'Toys'

Topic #2: 'Toys'

Yesterday's post discussion on the use of food as both nutrition and enrichment, provided a head start on today's 'toy' topic! Several of the food foraging items are also toys - bottle caps, egg crates, muffin papers, straws, traditional store-bought foraging toys, etc.

I've placed the word 'Toys' in quotes because there is a world of opportunity for enrichment beyond toys bought in the store or even hand made. If a bird derives much pleasure and play time from store bought or hand made traditional toys, then they are a wonderful resource. Unfortunately, some birds have little to no response (and even turn up their beaks!) at toys that are seemingly guaranteed to be irresistible. Yet, the same birds are quick to try to remove your watch, rings, and necklace, and given the chance would rip the buttons and zippers right off your clothes! This is important information.

Our homes contain a plethera of potential:

Birdie Enrichment Objects! (BEO's)

In the wild, our birds would spend fifty to eighty percent of their day foraging for food, and much of the remaining time in mate/nesting activities. They are naturally enriched by their surroundings. Additionally, survival is a time-consuming proposition! This is why I make every effort to encourage and increase the amount of time my birds spend foraging for their daily food as it provides the dual purpose of enrichment and nutrition.

Some Initial Considerations for BEO's:
1. Safety (non-toxic components)
2. Avoiding Hazards (nails getting caught, possible strangulation, etc.)
3. Size appropriateness
4. Each bird's personal preferences (which can and do change over time)

Possibilities for Custom Designed BEO's:
1. Bottle Caps
2. Small plastic bottles
3. Plastic or wooden spools of thread (minus the thread)
4. Plastic ribbon spools (minus the ribbon)
5. Pieces of wood cut in varying shapes, strung on sisal rope
6. An old sock, filled with a variety of objects, tied around a perch
7. For smaller birds, old buttons can be strung on sisal string
8. For larger birds, metal buttons on a piece of sisal rope
9. Strips of cloth, tied to perches or formed into a ball
10. Aluminum crochet hooks
11. 'Pencils' (skinny dowels cut into 'pencil' sized or smaller pieces)
12. Children's small plastic rulers (they do not have a sharp metal edge)
13. Old fashioned wooden clothes pins (the kind that do not have a spring)
14. The leaves and branches of bird-safe, non-toxic trees.
15. Aluminum keys on a key ring.
16. Plastic combs
17. Us!

And, the list goes on and on!

Here is Coco demonstrating the proper way to hold a comb (and The Diva would know) ......

How can 'we' be a BEO (#17 above)? By simple games and interactions with the bird such as peek-a-boo, singing together, dancing together, or even by 'wearing' BEO's (see below).

As we walk around the home with our birds, we can also assess what catches their attention, and investigate the possibility of parlaying it into a 'toy'. Observing what they are naturally drawn to will provide additional ideas for enrichment for each bird.

Many things around the house can easily and safely become BEO's. For example, Coco likes baseball caps. If I have one, she is always trying to take it off! The same is true of my reading glasses! So why not give her a set? And, I did!

Here she is in her fav' glasses; I gave her a pair of $1.00 readers and her own baseball cap! Every so often I will put them on and allow her to take them off me (this increases their curb appeal.).

Introduction to BEO's:
I like to properly introduce them slowly, one at a time, and demonstrate their use. It may sound a little silly, but I find it makes a difference. I will sit on the bed with a new BEO, show it to the bird(s), describe it (with excitement in my voice), tell them in what way I think they will find it interesting, enriching or intellectually stimulating. They can observe from a distance or come close at their choosing.
Usually, within short order they are clamoring to get their beaks on the new BEO's!

I do not take the BEO's to their area until they have explored them on the bed. I will select one or two that have gotten some attention and ask them if they would like it in their area. As I approach, I watch body language to see if they would like the BEO in their area. If not, then it can stay in the toy box which we bring out on the bed during group play time.

Whether we are discussing enrichment, nutrition or behavior, it pays to observe the bird. Do they enjoy ripping paper, chewing wood or beaking plastic? Do they prefer smaller objects or over-sized toys? I fostered a cockatiel who loved store-bought parrot toys more than my parrot!

They may initially beak a toy and walk away, but come back to it later. As with food, I like to introduce BEO's on multiple occasions, and in different circumstances and locations to give my birds ample opportunity and experience to explore the range of play possibilities.
Sometimes BEO's even show up clipped to my shirt or jean belt loop or unexpectedly in a different room!

Finally, I do not litter my birds areas with BEO's, to the point they can hardly take a breath without running into something. Too much of a good thing is still too much.

The purpose of providing a variety of BEO's is to enrich their lives an increase mental and physical stimulation. It also serves to increase dexterity and muscle tone. I especially like to provide surprises such as finding a toy in a pocket or just inside the pillow case. I believe the unexpected further promotes natural curiosity.

Have you offered your bird a BEO today? Look around - you might be amazed what can be used for enrichment!


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